What is the Abomination of Desolation? #217 Part 1 #lastdays

Hello friends and happy Friday to you! Let’s begin with a great observation from listener Jesse ‘The Hiker’ Worrell on a recent podcast:

In Matthew 17:20-21 – in the Holman Christian Standard Bible, New American Standard Bible, and others -besides littleness of faith in verse 20 – verse 21 states [But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”] In the CSB and the ESV and others- you will notice in both of these versions – they go from Matthew 17:20 to Matthew 17:22 – skipping/discarding verse 21. Interesting…. As well in Mark 9:29 – the HCSB also lists fasting – probably others while the NASB, ESV, and CSB do not…..This kind can come out by nothing but prayer [and fasting] (HCSB)

Let’s tackle the Matthew passage first. Why in the world is Matthew 17:21 missing from most modern translations of the Bible, but is present in the King James version? Jesse, being an astute Bible scholar, probably already knows what is going on here, but some may not, so let’s talk about it. Up until the invention of the printing press, all books of the Bible were hand-copied, as were all books up, of course. This hand-copying means that there are variations among these hand-written manuscripts, because some copiers of the Scriptures were more careful than others. Most of our earliest and best extant manuscripts of the gospel of Matthew do not contain vs. 21, but many later manuscripts do. What that probably means is that, at some point hundreds of years after Matthew was written, an over-zealous copyist added vs. 21 to the manuscript of Matthew (before verses and chapters were added) and then the addition caught on in future copies. Why would the copyist do such a thing? Very likely to bring the passage into harmony with Mark 9:29, which we will discuss next. Here is Dr. Bruce Metzger – one of the foremost experts on these sorts of issues in my lifetime – on this passage:

There is no satisfactory reason why this verse should have been omitted in such a wide variety of manuscripts if it were originally present in Matthew. Copyists frequently inserted material from one Gospel into another; and here it appears that most manuscripts have added “But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting” from the parallel in Mark 9:29, on which see the comment.

Roger L. Omanson and Bruce Manning Metzger, A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament: An Adaptation of Bruce M. Metzger’s Textual Commentary for the Needs of Translators (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2006), 28.

What about Mark 9:29 – why do some versions have ‘prayer and fasting,’ and some versions only mention prayer as the key to casting stubborn demons out? This is a slightly more complex issue, but still related to the issue above. The manuscript witness is a bit divided on whether or not ‘and fasting’ was in the original autograph of Mark’s Gospel – this means that some ancient Greek manuscripts have ‘prayer and fasting,’ and some (more, if I remember correctly) have just ‘prayer.’ Generally speaking, when experts in textual criticism are confronted by a situation like this, they generally believe the shorter and simpler reading is likely to be the original, and the more complex reading is likely to be the result of a much later copyist adding something to the text. In this case, Metzger has an interesting explanation:

In light of the increasing emphasis in the early church on the necessity of fasting, it is understandable that after a copyist added καὶ νηστείᾳ (and by fasting) as a comment on the text, these words found their way into most witnesses. Among the witnesses that resisted such an addition are important representatives of the Alexandrian and the Western text-types.

Roger L. Omanson and Bruce Manning Metzger, A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament: An Adaptation of Bruce M. Metzger’s Textual Commentary for the Needs of Translators (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2006), 83.

In other words, an early copyist might have added a note in the margins of the text that eventually was copied into the text itself as an accident or an oversight. There are several of these variations found in the thousands of Greek Bible manuscripts that have survived from antiquity, but fortunately, since we have so many thousands of Greek manuscripts, textual scholars do a great job of reconstructing the original text so that we can be very confident that what we have in the Bible is what was written by the apostles, prophets and authors of Scripture.

Today’s Bible readings include Judges 14, Acts 18, Jeremiah 26, and Mark 13, which is our focus passage. Our question is one that I mentioned a few episodes ago that we’d cover eventually, and today is that day. What is the mysterious Abomination that causes desolation? Let’s read Mark 13, and then discuss.

14 “When you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not be” (let the reader understand), “then those in Judea must flee to the mountains.

Mark 13:14

During the Olivet discourse (a sermon on the Mount of Olives that is recorded in Luke 21, Matthew 24 and Mark 13), Jesus teaches much about the end-times and His second coming. In Matthew and Mark, He alludes to an abomination that causes desolation, but does not explain it in great detail. He also appears to allude to this in Luke, but by a slightly different name. Here are the relevant passages:

15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place” (let the reader understand), 16 “then those in Judea must flee to the mountains.

Matthew 24:15-16

20 “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that its desolation has come near.21 Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains. Those inside the city must leave it, and those who are in the country must not enter it,

Luke 21:20-21

From Matthew, we learn that Daniel was the one who originally spoke about this abomination, and we also learn that it will be “standing in the holy place.” From Luke, we learn that this abomination will also be accompanied by the armies of an enemy, which will surround Jerusalem. To get more clarity, we are going to need to go back to the three chapters in the book of Daniel that Jesus is alluding to here:

21 while I was praying, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the first vision, reached me in my extreme weariness, about the time of the evening offering. 22 He gave me this explanation: “Daniel, I’ve come now to give you understanding. 23 At the beginning of your petitions an answer went out, and I have come to give it, for you are treasured by God. So consider the message and understand the vision: 24 Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city— to bring the rebellion to an end,to put a stop to sin,to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place. 25 Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until an Anointed One, the ruler, will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks. It will be rebuilt with a plaza and a moat, but in difficult times. 26 After those sixty-two weeks the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the coming ruler will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come with a flood, and until the end there will be war; desolations are decreed. 27 He will make a firm covenant with many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and offering. And the abomination of desolation will be on a wing of the temple until the decreed destruction is poured out on the desolator.”

Daniel 9:21-27

Daniel originally is told about the abomination of desolation from the angel Gabriel. The city and sanctuary of Jerusalem will be destroyed by a ‘ruler.’ That ruler will make a covenant with somebody, but in the middle of that covenant (perhaps a peace treaty?) he will stop sacrifice and offering in the temple, and then, the ‘abomination of desolation’ will somehow be on a wing of the temple. Continuing in Daniel, we learn a few more things:

28 The king of the North will return to his land with great wealth, but his heart will be set against the holy covenant; he will take action, then return to his own land.29 “At the appointed time he will come again to the South, but this time will not be like the first. 30 Ships of Kittim will come against him, and being intimidated, he will withdraw. Then he will rage against the holy covenant and take action. On his return, he will favor those who abandon the holy covenant. 31 His forces will rise up and desecrate the temple fortress. They will abolish the regular sacrifice and set up the abomination of desolation32 With flattery he will corrupt those who act wickedly toward the covenant, but the people who know their God will be strong and take action. 33 Those who have insight among the people will give understanding to many, yet they will fall by the sword and flame, and they will be captured and plundered for a time.

Daniel 11:28-33

We learn here that it is the forces of the ‘King of the North,’ who will set up the abomination of desolation, and that it could be done at roughly the same time the regular sacrifice is abolished. One more passage: Daniel 12:11

11 From the time the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days.

Daniel 12:11

This passage, however, could indicate there would be 1290 days between the abolishing of the sacrifice and the setting up of the abomination of desolation, so timing is a bit unclear here.

Tomorrow we will dig a little deeper into this mystery, but for now, let’s review what we’ve learned:  The ‘King of the North’ will set up the abomination of desolation in the temple at some point after the sacrifices are abolished. When this happens, Jerusalem will be surrounded by armies, and will be under siege of some sort. This will be such a serious situation, that Jesus suggests that many should flee the entire city of Jerusalem and stay away when they see this happen. Going beyond this will require a little bit of interpretation, and a little bit of history, since it is conceivable that the prophecy of Daniel has already been partly fulfilled. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s episode – same Bat time, same Bat-channel!


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